Vale, Allan Gyngell, the finest mind in foreign policy

In mid-April, Foreign Minister Penny Wong addressed the National Press Club on Australia’s interests in a regional balance of power. As she began her presentation, the minister paused to acknowledge one of her guests, Allan Gyngell.

Allan, she said, had been an official and unofficial adviser to governments for decades, always in singular service of Australia’s national interest.

She went on to describe Gyngell in terms that all of those who have dealt with him over decades would endorse with great feeling: ‘He is the definitive historian of Australian foreign policy. He is the finest writer about Australian foreign policy. He is, frankly, the finest mind in Australian foreign policy. And possibly also the smallest ego in Australian foreign policy.’

Allan Gyngell died yesterday and Wong spoke again of her deep sense of loss. ‘I am deeply saddened by the loss of Allan Gyngell AO,’ she said.

‘Allan was our finest mind in Australian foreign policy. He offered sage advice, both official and unofficial, to the Australian Government for decades. He was the definitive historian of Australian foreign policy.

‘As foreign minister and over the years of Opposition, I benefitted greatly from his insights. He was generous with his time and wise with his counsel.

‘Allan made an exceptional contribution to international policy making in Australia.

‘His long and distinguished career in Australian international affairs included appointments as national president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs 2017-23, and director-general of the Office of National Assessments 2009-13. He was the founding executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy for six years from 2003, and an honorary professor at the Australian National University.’

Wong said Gyngell served as senior international adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating from 1993-96. Prior to that, he was at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, including as first assistant secretary international from 1991-93. He began his foreign policy career as an officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where he served as a diplomat in Rangoon, Singapore and Washington.

In 2009 he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for his services to international relations.

‘Allan always strove for a respectful and informed national discussion on Australia’s foreign policy. But he also had the intellectual and personal courage to call things as he saw them,’ Wong said.

‘Allan often spoke of the formative influence his high school history teacher had on his curiosity about the world. He in turn opened the eyes of new generations of Australians to our place in the world. That continued with his more recent books and podcast.

‘As mentor to many Australian diplomats and foreign policy analysts, his legacy lives on in all of those whose lives and careers were touched by his leadership and quiet wisdom.

‘He will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.

‘I will remember him for his intelligence, kindness, wit and warmth.

‘I offer my deepest condolences to Allan’s family and to his friends.’